The obsession of Irma, a big fat Irish woman, was to touch people’s lives. For 20 years, she was happy working in an orphanage. She loved kids. One day, the orphanage closed down due to lack of funds. She became an alcoholic instantly and ended up in the Bowery. In the good old days, the Bowery in downtown New York City was where homeless alcoholics wrapped in towels slept in the icy sidewalk in winter close to bonfire barrels.
eastwind journals, February 25, 2022 (archive tr101)
By Bernie V. Lopez, firstname.lastname@example.org
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A fellow alcoholic led Irma to a nameless kitchen giving free hot soup and bread. For Bowery residents, this was truly heaven-sent. She applied for a job there as a soup server. Instantly, she was hired. She kept secret her alcohol problem.
She said, “Thank you Lord. When you close a window, you open a wider one. Don’t worry, I can kick the habit with you beside me.” She ignored the warning that the last 15 servers resigned after a few weeks. True enough, she kicked the habit instantly through prayers and will power.
The kitchen was a bizarre place full of zombies. Many talked to themselves. A few got up a table and made speeches. Once, the soup kettle tilted over due to a brawl and many had no food that day. An elderly man was knifed by an elderly lady for making a pass.
On her first week, a notorious blabber mouth started insulting her every night. She smiled and ignored him. But after a week, her Irish temper exploded. She gave him a KO punch. Everyone was silent, shocked. Three toughies stood up and headed towards her. This must be his friends, Irma thought. She wanted to run, but decided to stand her ground. The toughies were not after her but after the blabber mouth, whom they began mauling to a pulp to the delight of the screaming crowd. Irma intervened to save him. For that, he became a close friend. From then on, he zipped his mouth.
Irma had her way with men. Once, when someone touched her breast, she just gave him a hard slap, smiled, and told him to move on. It never happened again. Someone made lewd remarks. She said aloud, “God bless you, Charlie. Move on.” Charlie bowed his head in shame. It never happened again. Irma knew that zombies had a bit of an angel in them. She knew how to draw angels out. She took time to memorize every name.
A syndicate was cornering the soup by forcing others out of the line to get second servings. No one dared tell Irma. But from the corner of her eye, she saw the whole thing. She identified the syndicate members. One day she met all of them. She got a burly policeman beside her. After she read the list of their names and gave it to the policeman, she said, “Next time you corner the soup, you’re out of here, I mean forever. Clear?” There was no answer. “Okay, clear out and God bless you.” They left in silence and it never happened again.
On the way to the kitchen, Irma always met derelicts outside in the snow who offered her a swig of whisky. She never refused although she knew it was dangerous for her to take even a drop. So, everyone considered her as one of them.
In the absence of hate, there is only love.
Irma devised the ‘partner system’. One could eat one’s soup only after serving a partner. One’s partner would be waiting at the table like a king. They ate together. Next day, the server became the one served. Partners were rotated until everyone partnered with everyone. There were a few quarrels for those who hated their partners. Irma said a quarrel meant no soup for the two. So, they started learning not to hate each other. Irma said, “In the absence of hate, there is only love.”
Once, Irma was in tears, saying she had just been mugged. That evening, when everyone had left, she found a paper bag with her name. It was full of nickels, dimes and quarters. There was a note – ‘to the queen of our kitchen’. Tears fell on the kitchen floor. Derelicts also knew how to love back.
In no time, the kitchen was a home for bonding and sharing of derelicts. Violence waned and residents became less of zombies. They came not just for the soup but for the company and for their queen. The noise became louder during meals. This was how the hell-hole became a heaven-hole.
One candle light can pierce the darkness and infect other candles, until there is nothing but blinding light. There is a piece of heaven in every hell, tiny angels in every bum. You just have to let them come out. Love is contagious if you give it away to others.
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Author’s Credentials. Blogger – ex-Columnist (Inquirer) – Healing Ministry – ex-Professor (Ateneo University) – Documentary Producer-Director (freelance, ex-ABS-CBN, ex-TVS Tokyo) – ex-Broadcaster (Radio Veritas) – Facebook “Bernie V. Lopez Eastwind” / Pages “Eastwind Journeys and Journals” and “Mary Queen of Peace”.